Cuphead Review: Move Over Zelda A New GOTY Has Appeared

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The narrative over the years is that Cuphead is a hard game. When I first played it last year at X16 I was overwhelmed by baddies but I knew beating it wasn’t impossible. Cuphead can be beaten! This isn’t the Dark Souls of 2D shooters. For a game that has been identified as an “old-school” (read: hard) design, Cuphead is unexpectedly accessible. It’s not walk in the park but it is possible to finish.

Cuphead was announced way back in the summer of 2014, and immediately the art style, an homage to 1930s Max Fleischer Studios cartoons caught my eye. Brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, along with animator Jake Clark, created the hand-drawn art with the run-and-gun genre popularized by pixelated games like Contra and Mega Man. The result is one of the most visually pleasing games of all time.

Nostalgia is a fickle bitch and Cuphead fucking nails it.

After my playthrough of Cuphead, I don’t regret the rather large tattoo of Cuphead, Mugman and the nasty devil on my arm. I’ll be posting photos and a video soon enough. WINK.

Cuphead was truly worth the long wait. It delivers far beyond my wildest dreams.

Cuphead is a damn fine video game. One of the best of the year. It’s difficult but not impossible. If you’re willing to be patient, work your reflexes and learn your enemies moves you’re in for a real treat. This is one of the prettiest and most rewarding video games of the year.

The story of Cuphead is simple enough. A cup named Cuphead makes a deal with the devil at a casino and then has to repay a debt by collecting the contracts of the devil’s other debtors. These debtors aren’t eager to see Cuphead and put up quite the fight to avoid paying up. Poor Cuphead just wants to save his soul and get things back to normal. Players (and a friend via local co-op if you so wish) must travel from one boss to the next unleashing infinite ammunition into their souls to progress. An eye for an eye.

Boss fights take roughly three to five minutes but you’re going have to hit that retry button over and over until you learn their patterns. Fights have a few different phases that change constantly. Just because a boss starts out a turn punching doesn’t mean he will do the same in the next playthrough. Understanding the unpredictability is key. Cuphead keeps you on your toes and boy oh boy does it ever feel good to whip a bosses ass.

If you wanna progress in Cuphead you’re going have to take notes. Each boss can be brought to their knees by trial and error. Don’t think of each loss as a failure, think of it as a learning opportunity. Each boss has a weakness and a pattern that you can overcome. I believe in you.

Just don’t expect to race to the finish line. It takes skill and planning to beat each world map. I had no problem getting beat over and over again because the game is so god damn gorgeous and the music is so well done. These might be the best boss battles of all time. Cuphead is a game that other studios should steal from. Developers Studio MDHR know boss fights, which is good because they make up 70% of the game.

The other 30% of the game is saved for intense platforming missions to collect gold coins that will help you progress. Cuphead can unlock new weapons and abilities through level progression as well as by using the gold coins you’ve collected. Cuphead has access to two weapons, an extra power, and a special attack. Think carefully when choosing your loadout. This is crucial. You can skip the optional platforming levels if you want, but you should really play them to unlock gold coins. For other tips and tricks, I’ve created a handy guide.

Cuphead isn’t a platformer, it’s a boss fighting game, but the platforming levels are ridiculously fun. The level of detail in each is incredible. I’m so in awe with the character design and am currently working on a character guide so stay tuned for that.

The art style isn’t the only thing that stands out. The orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The soundtrack was composed by Kris Maddington and performed by 42 musicians, including a 13-piece big band orchestra and various soloists and ragtime pianists. My suggestion would be to turn down the gun shooting noises in favor of the orchestra to really let it breathe. It’s a magnificent treat and I really hope it comes to Spotify.

My one grief with the game is sometimes it doesn’t seem like an enemy is taking damage. Especially when using a special attack. Typically enemies will flash when hit but it’s sometimes unclear if you’re hitting them at all. I’m not sure a life bar is needed but it wouldn’t have hurt the game. Through repetition, you start to learn how much life a boss has but it can be a little confusing.

Cuphead is an incredible feat that will leave gamers very satisfied. It’s not for the casual gamer as even on “easy” mode it’s still rather difficult but if you’re willing to learn the enemies weakness you’re in for a real treat.

The long wait was well worth it and I’m getting ahead of myself here but I can’t wait to see what Studio MDHR has up their sleeve for their next game.

I hope they take a long vacay because they truly deserve it. You owe it to yourself to check out Cuphead. Cuphead is easily the best Xbox exclusive in years.

 Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher on the Xbox One.

Brock McLaughlin

Brock McLaughlin

Brock McLaughlin 🕹 🎮 Twitter @brockmclaughlin New Media (B)Rockstar. Blogger. Video Gamer. Podcaster at the Game Moose. UnBrocxer. Host/Producer at @comedygamers4u. Somewhat Charming.

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